We worried NZ might run out of prints to publish (back in 1977!!)

To mark the 50th anniversary of the founding of NZ Fine Prints we have been delving into our company archive throughout 2016. We unearthed this gem of an article where one of the founders of our gallery (then trading as Avon Fine Prints) was found to be musing on the imminent demise of the business - because we would soon run out of suitable New Zealand prints to publish! Forty years later we are still managing to find new prints for our customers to buy, and the trend to a greater choice seems to be accelerating with more prints being published each succeeding year than ever before!  Don was great at generating publicity and the notion that success was spelling the end of a business should perhaps be seen in this light...

A twinge of regret now, but… Success spells the end of a business

Christchurch Star, November 19 1977, p16

A business which folds after a decade might not represent success to some. But when Don Ellis set up Avon Fine Prints Ltd in Christchurch he knew it was only a matter of time until the business destroyed itself.

So the demise comes as no surprise, but it still brings a twinge of regret.

In its wake lie at least 200 different limited editions of prints of some of the finest historical paintings in New Zealand, Australia and the Pacific. More than 20 of these editions have sold out, some with spectacular increase in value. Another 60 or 70  editions have only between 10 and 200 prints to sell. (An edition usually comprises between 750 and 1000 prints.)

Once they’re gone, so virtually is Avon Fine Prints.

Print publisher Don Ellis in 1977
“Avon prints are not being completely phased out. New issues will possibly be made at the rate of one or two a year, and for a short time the paper prints will be made available to collectors,” says Mr Ellis. “It is also likely that another limited edition book or two will appear over the Avon imprint - but most of the Avon group’s activities these days are centred in the Capper Press, with its reprint books and New Zealand art prints; in Avon Picture Mouldings; in the educational division with its imported educational prints; and in Campbell Grant, best known for The Silver Shop.”

Most of the paintings printed by Avon Prints have been out of copyright - the work of very early New Zealand and Pacific artists. If copyright is still functioning, it is usually negotiable, or royalty arrangements can be reached.

At present Mr Ellis is trying to negotiate with a group of New Zealand artists whose work embraces the 1920s and 1930s.  Largely, Mr Ellis is guided by his own preference for paintings, although there is no foolproof way of knowing which works will win public approval as prints.

Some are much more popular than others - for no apparent reason, he says. “All the publisher can do is to feel for his market, have a good idea what he thinks should be done, ask other artists, critics, gallery directors for their opinions, distill all the information and come to a decision.”

Now that the early print business has come to an end, Mr Ellis looks forward to spending more time  working with Capper Press, a business which specialises in the reprinting of old books - particularly those which are extremely specialised. Among reprints to date are Freda du Faur’s book Conquest of Mt Cook, W.S. Green’s The High Alps of New Zealand, Sir Henry Brett’s White Wings, T.H. Pott’s Out in the Open, and numerous others. All these have a limited demand, but are fascinating in their own right, Says Mr Ellis. Among those he has personally found most entertaining and interesting are a couple on herbalists and doctors, and one called Colonists’ Guide: an Encyclopaedia of Useful Knowledge, a book which includes advice on how to cook, how to grow vegetables, and generally, how to stay alive.

Many of the books which are reprinted are chanced upon or brought to light by members of the public; others are selected by the firm. Without a reprint many of them would either disintegrate through old age, or else perhaps be lost in archives.

Begun as a hobby, Avon Fine Prints is the only company of its kind in the world devoted wholly to the publication of historical maps, prints and charts in limited editions. Until this month the prints were available unframed, but now sales of framed prints only will be made.

Why the change? Says Mr Ellis: “The selection and publication of limited edition prints is an intensely personal choice; there are very few historical paintings left to do, and the prints done cannot, of course, be reprinted, so that this side of the business is coming to a natural close.” The balance of the limited edition print stocks are to be transferred to the wholesale and retail framing division of the Avon group of companies, the Picture Shop, in Hereford Street.

When Mr Ellis began the business, people generally had no idea what a print was, he says. Nor did they possess much knowledge or appreciation of New Zealand’s early works of art “People certainly wouldn’t entertain New Zealand prints at that time so we had to have a sales aid, and that in our case was the limited edition print. “We came in on a rise of historical interest in New Zealand - and it has been this which has sustained the interest in the prints. “People suddenly became interested in their town or environment and bought a print of their area. The set of four views Auckland 1852 by P.J. Hogan is one of the best known groups. “The prints helped people to become interested in their own indigenous New Zealand art, and we would like to think that what we’ve done has helped to further stimulate their interest.”

People buying the early limited editions did so in the knowledge that once the edition was sold out, there were no more available. It was a sought-after commodity. “The problem which occurs, however, is that at some time you must run out of suitable paintings from which to take prints.” And with this prospect looming, Mr Ellis started Capper Press about five years ago.

Mr Ellis’s interest in art stems from his childhood. As a young man he built up quite a collection of early New Zealand paintings and eventually decided to start his own business in prints. The Auckland series was one of the first printed and “it went like a rocket”, says Mr Ellis.

Consequently, the business was soon on a firm footing, and today can claim credit for the publication of at least 200 different prints.

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